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  • Writer's pictureJustin Sparks

What Happens If You Plead Insanity in Texas? | All Possible Outcomes

Insanity pleads are complicated. Even though it's unlikely for someone to use this defense strategy, it's important to understand how this section of criminal law works.


There are different outcomes for people who use this defense and try to excuse their criminal responsibility. However, the strategy isn't always effective.


Insanity defense cases also depend on the state. Texas has specific rules about this topic, which will be discussed below.


What Does It Mean to Plea Insanity in Texas?

What Does It Mean to Plea Insanity in Texas?


When someone pleas insanity, they argue they didn't know their behavior was wrong because of a severe mental illness. This led them to do the criminal act they are being accused of.


Some people, for example, try to argue that they heard voices that told them to murder someone. These defenses are difficult to prove, so the defendant will have to work with a seasoned criminal defense attorney.


What Is the Rule of Insanity in Texas?

Section 8.01 of the Texas Penal Code defines the "Insanity Defense" as one that justifies the defendant's actions. Insanity defenses argue that the person was in a poor mental health state, so they didn't know that what they did was wrong.


According to Section 8.01, the term "mental disease or defect" doesn't include any abnormalities presented only by antisocial conduct or repeated criminal offenses.


Criminal defense lawyers in Fort Worth and their clients must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • They suffered from a severe mental disease/defect.

  • The mental illness or defect caused the person to think (at the time) that their offense wasn't wrong.

People who want to use the insanity defense argument must notify both the prosecution and the court 20 days before the trial happens. Then, the person will have to undergo an evaluation by a qualified mental health expert and get a report.


The defendant can't offer unexpected evidence as the case develops. They must also give up their right to reserve their opening statement.


Is Insanity the Same as Diminished Capacity?

The insanity defense is often confused with "diminished capacity." While both terms are similar, there's a key difference.


When arguing insanity, the defendant admits they're guilty, but due to their mental illness, they didn't know that their acts were wrong. It's an "affirmative defense."


On the other hand, diminished capacity is a partial defense. It argues that the defendant didn't have the required mental capacity to have criminal intent. People who can prove diminished capacity could be charged with a lesser crime.


There's a third term that's often confused with insanity defense: Competency to stand trial. If the defendant can't understand the charges being brought against them or what's going on in general, they will be considered not competent.


In those cases, the case will get postponed until the person gets the necessary treatment to restore their competency.


Insanity defenses argue that the person wasn't mentally sound at the time of committing the crime, but they are competent to stand trial today.


All the Tests Used to Evaluate If Someone Is Insane


There are four different tests used in insanity defense cases. Each state in the U.S. uses a different one:

  • M'Naghten Rule: In this test, a jury trial will determine if the defendant didn't know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the crime, causing them to do the criminal act.

  • Irresistible Impulse Test: The defendant must prove that they knew their act was wrong, but their mental state at the time prevented them from fighting the impulse of committing the crime.

  • Substantial Capacity Rule: This test argues that the defendant isn't responsible for their acts because their mental condition caused them to not have enough substantial capacity. The person must also prove that their lack of substantial capacity prevented them from acting lawfully or understanding they committed an illegal act.

  • Durham Insanity Rule: It argues that the defendant isn't responsible for what they did if their mental condition caused them to do it. This test is only available in New Hampshire.

In Texas, people use the M'Naghten rule and the irresistible impulse test. Sparks Law Firm can answer questions like What is the M'Naghten rule in Texas?


What Happens If the Person Is Successful with Their Claim?


Proving someone is not guilty by reason of insanity is only the start. After the verdict, the court must evaluate what to do based on the defendant's offense, which changes if it:

  • Caused serious bodily injury to someone else

  • Consisted of a threat of injury to someone else through the use of a weapon

  • Placed someone in imminent danger

Someone found NGRI is technically acquitted of their charges, but this doesn't mean they'll get released. The court usually holds a hearing within the next 30 days to evaluate if the defendant is considered dangerous.


If the defendant is considered to be no longer mentally ill (or if the court finds they didn't commit a violent offense), they can get released. Typically, the person will get placed in probate court or in the care of a responsible person. Later, there'll be a civil proceeding to determine if the defendant must be committed to a state mental hospital or mental retardation facility.


On the other hand, if the court determines the case involved a violent offense, it can decide to place the defendant in probate court or retain jurisdiction. The latter option will keep the defendant committed to a max-security mental health facility for about 90 days.


If the court decides that the person isn't "manifestly dangerous," it can transfer them to a regular facility within 60 days. The court will need to decide if they want to recommit the person after 90 days.


Are Successful Insanity Defense Claims Common in Texas?

Are Successful Insanity Defense Claims Common in Texas?


Insanity defense cases aren't common in Texas. The cases where the defendant is found not guilty are even rarer. This is because it's often hard for a jury to believe that someone isn't guilty after confirming they committed a crime.


Other jurors believe that the defendant automatically gets released if they're acquitted, which isn't true.


A popular case involving an insanity defense happened in 2020 with Krystle Concepcion Villanueva. She stabbed and beheaded her five-year-old daughter and got a life sentence for that.


In her defense, she claimed that both her daughter and father-in-law were replaced by clones, so she had to kill them to get her real family back. The jurors didn't believe her, so she was ultimately found guilty of capital murder.


Bottom Line - Evaluating All Options with Legal Experts


Even though insanity pleas aren't common, it's always a great idea to learn more about these cases. Those with more questions about the topic or any other matter can contact the team at Sparks Law Firm.

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